Alex Riberas and Darren Kelly sailed to a crushing win in the final three-hour race of the Golden Homes North Island Endurance Series, sealing themselves a maiden title.
Riberas eased home to the chequered flag three laps ahead of their nearest competitors; a masterful display of patience and wet weather skill.
With drivers able to drop a round in points, the race win for Riberas and Kelly brought them level on points with Jonny Reid and Neil Foster, who sat out this weekend.
Thus, the championship crown was determined on a countback of pole positions, which favoured The Heart of Racing Aston Martin team.
“[The championship] was a big goal coming into this weekend,” Kelly said.
“It is never easy to win a race and had to get a good qualifying result as well.
“It has been a tough weekend in really tough conditions. It’s been a lot of fun and a great way to end the North Island series.”
Heavy rain soaked the Pukekohe Park circuit, making for an arduous task for the three-hour field.
However, nothing could put a halt to the imperious drive from Riberas and Kelly.
After maiden his pole position lap yesterday, Kelly settled into an early race lead, establishing a comfortable lead that Riberas could pad once he got behind the wheel.
“I was just focusing every lap,” Riberas said.
“I just kept thinking that out of every lap in the three hours, the most important one is the one I am driving right now.”
The title win is the first for Riberas and Kelly as a driving pair after being cruelly denied the championship last season.
It also means they have won the North, South and New Zealand endurance championships.
Both will be out to defend their South Island and national titles later this year.
“We came here knowing we could finally conquer the trifecta, the three championships,” Riberas said. “It is fantastic.”
Last year’s champs Glenn Smith and John de Veth came home second, coming out on top in an enthralling duel with Chris van der Drift and Lance Hughes in the Nissan GT-R.
The two cars traded track position several times, with De Veth making the decisive overtake around the outside at the hairpin.
For van der Drift and Hughes, finishing third means they tick off the goal of a first podium together in the Nissan.
“Good to finish off with a podium,” van der Drift said. “We will do a bit of a tune up and head down to the South Island next.”
Jono Lester and Matt Dovey looked racy in the wet conditions, finishing one lap behind the McLaren and the Nissan in fourth despite being lower-class.
A spin and a trip to the sand trap for Andrew Fawcett in the race’s early stages put paid to the No.10 Audi R8 LMS’ day.
Fawcett pitched himself into a spin at the hairpin and dug the rear wheels into the sand, requiring the safety car and recovery crew to get him going again safely.
That dropped the car several laps down, and him and Sam Fillmore were never able to recover, finishing fifth and nine laps off the leaders.
Christina Orr-West and Martin Day were sixth in the Dayle ITM Toyota 86.
Greg Murphy had a hairy moment when the engine on the Audi TT RS VLN he was driving let go along the back straight.
Main Image: Matt Smith